Q-and-A Session With Parish Priests (Part 3)

"The Priest as Teacher Must Himself Be Well Formed"

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 5, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met Feb.26 with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome for a question-and-answer session. Here is a translation of the third question and the Holy Father's answer.

ZENIT will be publishing these transcriptions over the coming days. Parts 1 and 2 were published Tuesday and Wednesday.

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[Father Giuseppe Forlai:]

Holy Father, I am Father Giuseppe Forlai, parish vicar of San Giovanni Crisostomo parish, in the northern sector of our diocese. The educational emergency, of which Your Holiness has spoken authoritatively, is also, as we all know, an emergency of teachers, especially, I believe, under two aspects. First of all, it is necessary to have a broader view on the continuity of the presence of the teacher-priest. A young person does not establish a pact of growth with someone who leaves after two or three years, also because he is emotionally involved in managing his relations with parents who leave their home, the father's or mother's new relations, precarious teachers who change every year. One must be present in order to educate. Therefore, I feel that the primary need is that of a certain stability of position of the teacher-priest.

The second aspect [is this]: I believe that what is essentially at stake in youth pastoral care is related to culture. Culture understood as emotive-emotional competence and as possession of the words contained in the concepts. A youth without this culture might be the poor man of tomorrow, a person who runs the risk of failing in the affective [dimension] and of drowning in the world of work. A youth of this culture runs the risk of being a nonbeliever, or worse still, a practicing [Catholic] without faith, because incompetence in relationships deforms one's relationship with God, and the ignorance of words blocks the understanding of the excellence of the Word of the Gospel.

It is not enough that young people physically fill the spaces of our parishes to spend some free time. I would like the parish to be a place where they learn to develop relational competencies and where they are heard and given school support. A place that is not the constant refuge of those who do not want to study or make an effort, but a community of people that ask the right questions opening them to religious meaning and where the great work of charity that is helping one to think is practiced. And here a serious reflection should also be initiated on the collaboration between parishes and religion teachers.

Your Holiness, give us one more authoritative word on these two aspects of the educational emergency: the necessary stability of the agents and the urgency of having culturally capable teacher-priests. Thank you.

[Benedict XVI:]

Let us begin with the second point. We can say that it is broader and, in a certain sense, easier. Needless to say, a parish in which only games are played and drinks are shared would be absolutely superfluous. The meaning of a parish should really be the cultural, human and Christian formation of a personality, which must become a mature personality. On this we are in absolute agreement and, it seems to me, today there is a cultural poverty in which many things are known, but without the heart, without an inner unity because there is no common vision of the world. For this reason, a cultural solution inspired in the faith of the Church, in the knowledge that God has given us, is absolutely necessary. I would say that this is precisely the function of the parish: that one not only find possibilities for one's free time, but above all that one can find an integral human formation that completes his personality.

And for this reason, naturally, the priest as teacher must himself be well formed and be positioned in today's culture, rich in culture, to also help young people enter into a culture inspired by faith. I would add, of course, that in the end the point of orientation of all culture is God, the God present in Christ. Today we see people who have much knowledge, but no interior orientation. Thus science can also be dangerous for man, because without more profound ethical guidelines, it leaves man to his own free will and, consequently, without the necessary orientation to really become a man. In this sense, the heart of all cultural formation, which is so necessary, must be without a doubt the faith: to know the face of God which has been shown to us in Christ and thus to have the orientation point for the rest of culture, which otherwise is disoriented and becomes disorienting. A culture without personal knowledge of God, and without knowledge of the face of God in Christ, is a culture that could even be destructive, because it does not know the necessary ethical guidelines. In this sense, I believe, we really have a mission of profound cultural and human formation, which opens to all the riches of the culture of our time, but which gives the criterion, the discernment to test what is true culture and what could become anti-cultural.

The first question is much harder for me -- the question is also [addressed] to Your Eminence [the vicar, Cardinal Agostino Vallini] -- namely, the permanence of the young priest to give guidance to young people. Undoubtedly, a personal relationship with the teacher is important and must also have the possibility of a certain period to get to know each other. And, in this sense, I can agree that the priest, point of orientation for young people, cannot change every day, because in this way, in fact, he loses this orientation. On the other hand, the young priest must also have different experiences in different cultural contexts, precisely to obtain, in the end, the cultural equipment necessary to be, as pastor, the point of reference for a long time in the parish. And I would say that in the life of the young person, the dimensions of time are different from those of the life of the adult. The three years, from 16 to 19, are at least as long and as important as the years between 40 and 50. Precisely here is where the personality is formed: It is an interior journey of great importance, of great existential extent.

In this sense, I would say that three years for an assistant pastor is a good period of time to form a generation of young people; and in this way, moreover, he can also know other contexts, learn about other situations in other parishes, enrich his human knowledge. The time is not that brief in order to give a certain continuity, an educational path of the common experience, to learn to be a man. On the other hand, as I have said, for youth three years is a decisive and very long time, because the future personality is really being formed. It seems to me, therefore, that both needs can be reconciled: on one hand, that the young priest have the possibility of different experiences to enrich his store of human experience; and on the other, the need to stay for a determined period of time with the young people to really introduce them to life, to teach them to be human persons. In this sense, I think that both aspects can be reconciled: different experiences for a young priest, continuity in the accompaniment of the young people in order to guide them in life. However, I do not know if the cardinal vicar can say something to us in this regard.

[Cardinal Vicar for Rome, Agostino Vallini:]

Holy Father, of course I share these two needs, the combination between the two needs. It seems to me, from the little I have been able to learn, that in Rome somehow we still have a certain stability of young priests in the parishes, for at least a few years, with exceptions. There can always be exceptions. But the real problem stems, perhaps, from serious needs or concrete situations, above all in the relations between the pastor and the assistant pastor -- and here I touch a raw nerve -- and also in the lack of young priests. I was also able to mention this to you when you received me in audience, one of the grave problems of our diocese is, in fact, the number of vocations to the priesthood. Personally, I am convinced that the Lord calls, that he continues to call. Perhaps we should do more. Rome can give vocations, it will give them, I am certain. But in all this complex matter perhaps many aspects interfere. I surely think that a certain stability already exists and I also will follow, insofar as I can, the lines pointed out to us by the Holy Father.

[Translation by ZENIT]



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On ZENIT's Web site:

Part 1: http://www.zenit.org/article-25258?l=english

Part 2: http://www.zenit.org/article-25264?l=english